Twins Hall of Famer Pucket dies at 45
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Kirby Puckett died Monday, a day after the Hall of Fame outfielder had a stroke at his Arizona home. He was 45. Puckett died at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. He had been in intensive care since having sur...
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Kirby Puckett died Monday, a day after the Hall of Fame outfielder had a stroke at his Arizona home. He was 45.
Puckett died at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. He had been in intensive care since having surgery at another hospital following his stroke Sunday morning.
The bubbly, barrel-shaped Puckett carried the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 before his career was cut short by glaucoma. His family, friends and former teammates gathered at the hospital Monday.
Puckett was given last rites and died in the afternoon, hospital spokeswoman Kimberly Lodge said.
"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am terribly saddened by the sudden passing of Kirby Puckett," commissioner Bud Selig said. "He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the term.
"He played his entire career with the Twins and was an icon in Minnesota. But he was revered throughout the country and will be remembered wherever the game is played. Kirby was taken from us much too soon _ and too quickly," he said.
Puckett broke into the majors in 1984 and had a career batting average of .318. Glaucoma left the six-time Gold Glove center fielder and 10-time All-Star with no choice but to retire after the 1995 season when he went blind in his right eye.
Out of the game, the 5-foot-8 Puckett put on a considerable amount of weight, which concerned those close to him.
"It's a tough thing to see a guy go through something like that and come to this extent," former teammate Kent Hrbek said Monday night.
"That's what really hurt him bad, when he was forced out of the game," he said. "I don't know if he ever recovered from it."
Asked what he would remember the most from their playing days, Hrbek quickly answered, "Just his smile, his laughter and his love for the game."
Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try in 2001 and thrilled the crowd in Cooperstown when he said, "I'm telling you, anything is possible" during his induction speech.
His plaque praised his "ever-present smile and infectious exuberance."
"This is a sad day for the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball and baseball fans everywhere," Twins owner Carl Pohlad said.
Puckett's signature performance came in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta. After telling anyone who would listen before the game that he would lead the Twins to victory that night at the Metrodome, he made a leaping catch against the fence and then hit a game-ending homer in the 11th inning to force a seventh game.
The next night, Minnesota's Jack Morris went all 10 innings to outlast John Smoltz and pitch the Twins to a 1-0 win for their second championship in five years.
"If we had to lose and if one person basically was the reason _ you never want to lose _ but you didn't mind it being Kirby Puckett. When he made the catch and when he hit the home run you could tell the whole thing had turned," Smoltz said Monday night.
"His name just seemed to be synonymous with being a superstar," the Braves' pitcher said. "It's not supposed to happen like this."
Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk echoed Smoltz's sentiment.
"There was no player I enjoyed playing against more than Kirby. He brought such joy to the game. He elevated the play of everyone around him," Fisk said in a statement to the Hall.
Puckett's birthdate was frequently listed as March 14, 1961, but recent research by the Hall of Fame indicated he was born a year earlier.
Perhaps the most popular athlete ever to play in Minnesota, Puckett was a guest coach at Twins spring training camp in 1996, but hadn't worked for the team since 2002. He kept a low profile since being cleared of assault charges in 2003, when he was accused of groping a woman at a suburban Twin Cities restaurant.
Puckett, who was divorced, is survived by two children. He was engaged to be married this summer.